Here we go again.... The rubber match.
To recap: LSU lost their first match-up with the Aggies in College Station badly, before evening the score with a close win at home. They'll now get an A&M squad who comes in to this game rated as 31st in the nation for offensive efficiency and 17th for defensive efficiency (20th overall according to KenPom). This is not good news for the tigers. While, if they can stay out of foul trouble, they can likely score enough, no one has any faith in them getting any sort of meaningful stops on the defensive end. This very could well be the end to the Tiger season and the Ben Simmons experiment.
A&M still relies on the play-making and scoring of Jalen Jones and Danuel House, but they've gotten more consistent contributions from the supporting cast in recent weeks. They've got the SEC Coach of the Year in Billy Kennedy, and if the Tigers had trouble with the Vols going zone yesterday, Kennedy should have schemes in store for them that's going to have Jones hanging himself at half-time with his necktie.
My Aggie to watch for: Tyler Davis. Since his middling showing against LSU Davis has gone back to performing at a high level, scoring 15 or more in 4 of his last 6, all Aggie wins. This also included his gamewinner against Kentucky, a tip in that topped off a 16 point 12 rebound showing against an impressive Wildcat frontline. I imagine Davis will have a game more similar to his first outing against LSU, where he dropped in 18 and 5 against a LSU foul-troubled front court. Tigers have to absolute avoid that happening today, without hacking him too much in the process. Might be tricky.
Defensively, the Aggies are going to attack Simmons and Craig Victor. As inconsistent as this Tiger team is, they completely fall off the rails when one of those two, or god forbid both, are in foul trouble. Blakeney has been awesome, Quarterman is Quarterman, but without Hornsby, this team can't afford to roll out the deep bench (Epps, Bridgewater, Robinson) in extended minutes. Not against this team.
Keys for the Tigers?
REBOUND the ball. This team lives in transition, and that starts with squeezing the orange on the defensive end. Given the gaps in efficiency, the Tigers cannot allow second chance opportunities like they did against Tennessee if they have hopes of pulling this one out.
Stay out of foul trouble. The depth on this team is obviously lacking, and sans Hornsby they need everyone of their available guys locked in to pull this off. They need a big game from Simmons, and he obviously can only do that when he's on the floor. They still need to find a way to protect the rim, aside from hard fouls from Victor and Simmons. This is the time of year that it really hurts that all that Elbert Robinson hype from over the summer hasn't panned out in any sense.
Play as a team. This happened yesterday sporadically, but they're going to need to do so more consistently to pull of a win today. Based off body-language, it looks like Quarterman gets frustrated playing with Blakeney, especially when 2 isn't making a good share of the volume of poor shots that he takes. That's not surprising, as gunners like Blakeney can often rub teammates the wrong way on-court. They'll need to find a way to both co-exist efficiently to pull this one off. Quarterman's playmaking is obviously essential to the team's offensive flow, but Blakeneys scoring and talent are as well if they are to ever reach their peak performance levels. It's do or die time, and they need to come together and put forward 40 minutes of team play.
This should be a good one. Let's see kind of madness the boys can get into.